Address changes have Onset activist calling for Water Commissioner's resignation
Multiple address changes listed by an Onset Water Commissioner have come under scrutiny from an Onset activist, who says it shows the district’s residency requirement isn’t being followed.
Lisa Morales is calling for the resignation Onset Board of Water Commissioners Chair Ben Hughes after she reviewed voting records on file with the Town Clerk’s office.
A Wareham Week review of the records show that Hughes has reported moving in and out of the district three times in the past two years. However, each time Hughes was elected, his address was listed as being in Onset. Under district bylaws, elected officials must live within the Onset Fire District.
According to the voting records, Hughes moved to Eleventh Street in 2012 from Fall River. He was first elected to the commission in May of 2016, for a one-year term.
In October 2016, he listed a change of address to Pinehurst Drive in Wareham, which is outside of the Onset district. In May 2017, before his election to the board for a three-year term, he changed his address from Pinehurst Drive to 2 Shawnee Drive, the home of Water Commissioner Frank Kowzic. Then, in February of this year, Hughes’ address was changed back to Pinehurst Drive, according to voting records.
Commissioners must reside in the district if they wish to seek election and must affirm they are residents before they are allowed to run, according to district bylaws. However, according to a legal opinion from the district's attorney, bylaws allow an elected official to finish a term should he or she move out of the district, meaning Hughes will be allowed to finish his term, which ends in May 2020.
Morales, the author of the blog Onset All Together, said the records show that Hughes should not be allowed to serve on the commission.
“The integrity of our voting process matters to all of us,” said Morales. “We in Onset now have, by his own admission, a Water Commissioner who is ineligible to neither vote not hold office, and a Prudential Committee complicit in this.”
She repeatedly has called for Hughes’ resignation, including on March 22 during a meeting of the Onset Fire District’s Prudential Committee. In recent months, Morales, who moved to Onset a year and a half ago, has called for more transparency from the district on several issues, including how much the district pays in health insurance benefits.
Morales said the history of address changes, particularly the one to Kowzic’s address, shows Hughes is not complying with the district’s residency requirement.
“That's the problem, he is treating this as his private company. Mr. Kowzic has not said whether Mr. Hughes lived with him from May 4, 2017 through Feb. 28, 2018.” said Morales.
Kowzic confirmed to Wareham Week that Hughes did live with him during that time.
“Certainly, he did,” said Kowzic when asked. He added that Hughes was welcome in his home and had his own room. He declined to say why Hughes stayed with him.
Hughes declined to comment on the history of address changes. When the issue was raised at the Water Commissioner’s March 8 meeting, Hughes did say: “My personal life is my personal life, and that's that.”